John Singleton, 1968–2019

In the clip above, director John Singleton talks about the process he went through writing the movie that launched his career, Boyz N the Hood (1991). He followed the old rule “write what you know” and grounded the film in South Los Angeles, the place where he grew up. Boyz N the Hood earned Singleton an Oscar nomination for Best Director, the first for a black filmmaker. And he was only 24 years old. The film also launched the careers of many other now-prominent African-American names in the business and was later on selected by the Library of Congress for preservation. It’s a shame that Singleton died yesterday at the age of 51 after suffering a major stroke. 

Singleton had to fight the studio to stay on as director of Boyz N the Hood and learned the craft on the job. He kept evolving as a filmmaker. The movie was an impressive breakthrough; the clip above shows his characters dealing with the constant, tiresome presence of guns in their community.

After that, Singleton directed the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” (starring Eddie Murphy and Iman), but also stayed true to the social message of Boyz N the Hood, depicting different aspects of the African-American experience in films like Poetic Justice (1993), Higher Learning (1995), Rosewood (1997) and Baby Boy (2001). They may not have been as successful as Boyz N the Hood, but the combined impact of the issues they address is powerful.

In the 2000s, he started making less interesting thrillers and action movies, but in some of them his themes remained familiar. As in Shaft (2000), where Samuel L. Jackson’s detective is trying to throw a smirking, racist killer (Christian Bale) in prison. Four Brothers (2005) was set in inner-city Detroit. You’d have to struggle to find some deeper meaning behind 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) though.

The last movie John Singleton made was the forgettable thriller Abduction (2011), but he also created the drama series Snowfall (2017- ), about the 1980s crack epidemic in L.A. True to himself, writing what he knew, right to the end. 

I mentioned earlier the fact that Singleton helped launch many people’s career. Well, they were sure to honor him on Twitter, such as Ice Cube:

Taraji P. Henson:

Angela Bassett:

And Regina King:

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